[Paleopsych] Unequal Societies, Unhealthy Societies
shovland at mindspring.com
Sun Aug 8 16:57:20 UTC 2004
I don't have data.
It is more a case of "reasoning from first principles."
Any economy has static and dynamic elements,
for example assets versus income and expenses.
Most economies use money for exchange. The
amount of money in an economy is a function of
the numbers of units available multiplied by the
rate at which these units change hands.
In an economy with a high concentration of income,
most of the people are not able to engage in large
transactions such as the purchase of an automobile.
The few who do have the income to do these
transactions have a limited need for doing them.
If you have several cars, you don't need dozens
of cars. If you have several houses, you don't
need dozens of houses. Neither your soul
nor your senses would get much out of having
more of them.
The result is a large surplus of income for the
few which they put into Swiss bank accounts,
which charge them interest for holding the money.
The money goes into cold storage, where it
In an economy with a wider distribution of income,
more people can buy the big ticket items, and
the society as a whole is more prosperous, and
there is less incentive to kidnap rich people for ransom :-)
From: Premise Checker [SMTP:checker at panix.com]
Sent: Sunday, August 08, 2004 8:57 AM
To: The new improved paleopsych list
Subject: RE: [Paleopsych] Unequal Societies, Unhealthy Societies
Steve, do you have actual data here? I'd love to see it! Anyhow, what you
have at most is correlation, not causation. But it is true, I think, that
non-market or corrupt-market economies do tend to result in greater
concentration of wealth. What's happening in America, and throughout the
world, in the past several decades, is a growing premium on intelligence.
At one time "a strong back and a weak mind" was good enough to get by on.
But now the man with the strong back needs to operate a complex machine,
more and more a machine that has a computer chip in it.
So there are two factors: free vs. corrupt or non-free societies and the
growing premium on intelligence.
On 2004-08-07, Steve opined [message unchanged below]:
> Have you noticed that 3rd world countries
> tend to have the wealth concentrated in
> a few hands.
> This results in poverty, because prosperity
> if a function of exchange, not possession.
> If the money doesn't change hands at a
> good rate, an economy stagnates.
> The US is more 3rd world than 1st world
> at this point in time.
> Steve Hovland
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Premise Checker [SMTP:checker at panix.com]
> Sent: Saturday, August 07, 2004 8:37 AM
> To: WTA-Politics; paleopsych at paleopsych.org; Psychology at WTL
> Subject: [Paleopsych] Unequal Societies, Unhealthy Societies
> Unequal Societies, Unhealthy Societies
> Why An Unequal Society Is An Unhealthy Society
> Marek Kohn
> This article first appeared in the New Statesman's 'Big Ideas'
> feature, 26 July 2004.
> Among those committed to understanding the mind as the work of natural
> selection, there is a sense that the time has come: we are now
> beginning to see what we really are. Two major propositions have
> emerged, sustained by a construction boom in Darwinian theory and the
> confidence that supporting data will increasingly be delivered in hard
> genetic currency. One is that human nature is evolved and universal;
> the other is that variations in personality and mental capabilities
> are substantially inherited. The first speaks of the species and the
> second about individuals. That leaves society - and here a third big
> idea is taking shape. In two words, inequality kills.
> The phrase (which is that of Richard Wilkinson, one of the leading
> researchers in the field) sticks out from current consensus like a
> sore thumb. For the most part, the major biological ideas concerning
> human nature and mental capabilities are seen to confirm the way the
> world has turned out. In a world so seemingly short of serious
> alternatives to the way it is currently arranged, that is only as
> expected. But what might be the biggest biological idea of all, in
> terms of its implications for human health and happiness, shows the
> world in a very different light. It finds that society has a profound
> influence over the length and quality of individuals' lives. The data
> are legion and the message from them is clear: unequal societies are
> unhealthy societies. They are unhealthy not just in the strict sense
> but also in the wider one, that they are hostile, suspicious,
> antagonistic societies.
> The most celebrated studies in this school of thought are those
> conducted among Whitehall civil servants by Michael Marmot, whose
> recent book Status Syndrome presents his ideas in popular form. He and
> his colleagues found a steady gradient in rates of death between the
> lowest and the highest ranks of the civil service hierarchy. Top civil
> servants were less likely to die of heart disease than their immediate
> subordinates, and so on down the ladder; at the bottom, the lowest
> grades were four times more likely to die than the uppermost. The key
> features of these findings were that the gradient was continuous, and
> that only about a third of the effect vanished when account was taken
> of the usual lifestyle suspects such as smoking and fatty food. This
> influence upon life and death affected everybody in the hierarchy,
> according to their position in it. Differences in wealth were an
> implausible cause in themselves, for most of the civil servants were
> comfortably off and even the lowest paid were not poor. The fatal
> differences were in status.
> What goes for Whitehall seems to go for the world. In rich countries,
> death rates appear to be related to the differences between incomes,
> rather than to absolute income levels. The more unequally wealth is
> distributed, the higher homicide rates are likely to be. Although the
> findings about income inequality are controversial, the broad picture
> is consistent; and remains so if softer criteria than death are
> measured, like trust or social cohesion. Inequality promotes
> hostility, frustrates trust and damages health.
> It is hard to make sense of these findings outside a framework based
> on the idea of an evolved psychology. Understanding humans as evolved
> social beings, however, made what we are by the selective pressures of
> life in groups of intelligent beings, it is easy to see that our minds
> and bodies depend upon our relations with our kind. These relations
> assume central importance for our health once economic development has
> minimised the dangers of infectious disease and relegated starvation
> to history.
> Studies of baboons, social primates obliged by their nature to form
> hierarchies, tell the same story. A state of subordination is
> stressful; such stress may put the body into a mode that is vital in
> emergencies but corrosive as a permanent condition, interfering with
> the immune system and increasing the risk of heart disease.
> Conversely, human relationships formed on a broadly equal basis may
> support the immune system and promote health. An American researcher,
> Sheldon Cohen, demonstrated this by dripping cold viruses into
> volunteers' noses, and then asking them about the range and frequency
> of their social relationships. The more connections they had - with
> acquaintances, colleagues, neighbours and fellow club members as well
> as with nearest and dearest - the less likely they were to develop
> The relationship between the length of life and its everyday quality
> is the relationship between its biological and social dimensions,
> which demands an evolutionary explanation; and the findings seem to
> demand egalitarian measures. It's an unfamiliar combination. But
> Darwinian readings of the data on health and equality are not
> incompatible with claims that humans are innately unequal. They do,
> however, lead to markedly different views of how to make the best of
> So do the prior ethical commitments that evolutionary thinkers bring
> to their projects. In his book The Blank Slate, having stated the case
> for the substantial innateness of all human characteristics and their
> imperviousness to parental influence, the psychologist Steven Pinker
> devotes a chapter to denouncing the past century's art and its
> associated discourses. Folk wisdom and popular taste are right, he
> affirms; `elite art' is perverse and wrong. The argument is built upon
> the idea that we all share an evolved human nature, but it would not
> be terribly difficult to remove the Darwinian passages and produce a
> standard-issue comment piece for those pages of right-leaning
> newspapers that are devoted to castigating the liberal elite.
> Pinker turns his moral compass to take bearings on literary reference
> points such as 1984, that affirm the individual and condemn attempts
> to impose equality upon humankind's natural inequality. At a
> fundamental level, modern Darwinism encourages individualism, for it
> holds that evolutionary processes act on individual organisms rather
> than upon groups of organisms. It makes no particularly strong
> predictions about variations among individual human minds. That part
> of the picture comes from the behaviour geneticists, who compare
> identical twins with fraternal twins (or study their prize specimens,
> identical twins who have been reared apart) and conclude that a large
> proportion of the variation between individuals' personality traits,
> temperaments and intelligence is due to inherited differences. Such
> findings readily lend themselves to a view of the world which attaches
> great importance to allowing individuals to fulfil their potential,
> while regarding social programmes to reduce inequalities as vain at
> best. Equality of opportunity is a fundamental principle; equality of
> outcome is a pernicious fantasy.
> The result is an upbeat fatalism; upbeat about the prospects for
> scientific understanding of human psychology, fatalistic about the
> prospects that society might be improved by such understanding ... and
> upbeat, also, in the confidence that society needs no radical
> alteration. Many of those who dislike such visions collude in them, by
> acquiescing in the assumption that the effects of environments can be
> altered but those of genes cannot, and by failing to recognise the
> words `tend to'. The big idea that provides much of the driving force
> for evolutionary psychology, the project to describe a universal human
> nature, is that the sexes have different reproductive interests. The
> sex which invests the most in reproduction will be the one which takes
> more care in its choice of mates. Among humans, this implies that
> women will tend to be more discriminating than males in their choice
> of partners. It also implies that men and women will have different
> emotional propensities - as Stephen Jay Gould put it, conceding the
> central principle of evolutionary psychology in the very act of
> deploring the neo-Darwinian school. It does not imply that every woman
> will be more circumspect in choice of partners than every man, or that
> every man will be readier to take risks than every woman, any more
> than the tendency for men to be taller than women means that all men
> are taller than all women. Through the widespread failure to recognise
> that evolved behaviours and ways of thinking are tendencies,
> evolutionary psychology has determinism thrust upon it.
> In the application of evolutionary perspectives to health and
> equality, however, the prospect of a better society - or at least of
> better communities or workplaces - is unmistakeable. This way of
> understanding human nature has the qualities that have marked great
> Darwinian ideas since the Origin of Species: it is profound in its
> implications, potentially transformative, and challenges existing
> wisdom. On one hand, it calls into question the idea that equality of
> opportunity should be pursued without regard for equality of outcome.
> On the other, it goes beyond the mechanistic assumption that the task
> of `progressive' politics is to ensure that the least well off have
> enough, emphasising that how much is enough depends on how much others
> have. It replaces vestigial sentiments about the abstract virtue of
> co-ops and community spirit with data about life and death, implying
> that we would all (or almost all) be healthier and happier if we were
> prepared to share more of what we have. It speaks to the world we live
> in, where want is marginal but trust is precarious.
> In Richard Wilkinson's words, it is `the science of social justice'.
> Like other big evolutionary ideas, though, it may be honoured more by
> denial than by engagement.
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